The World Championship

Patrick Chapin, author of Next Level Deckbuilding, talks about what went down in Standard and Modern at the sixteen-player World Championship in Amsterdam last week.

The champ is here!


Isn’t it amazing the difference a title can make?

World Champion.

Shahar Shenhar is now not only a three-time Grand Prix Champion but a Magic World Champion.

And he’s only nineteen years old.

While Magic has had younger World Champions, this is the first time the World Champion hadn’t even been born when the game debuted exactly twenty years ago today.

This past week both the sixteen-player Magic World Championship and the 71-team Magic World Cup took place in Amsterdam. Both events contained multiple formats and a variety of unusual factors that mean we need to take the results from them with a grain of salt, analyzing them in the proper light.

A sixteen-player tournament where you know everyone competing is actually in many regards, more like a FNM than a Pro Tour. At a Pro Tour, there is only so much you can afford to metagame against specific people or groups of people. When you know what most of the people at your FNM like to play, you really do have a lot more liberty to metagame specifically against them.

The question of how to prepare for a tournament with this few of players further complicates things. If you test with almost half of the field, how much advantage can one really get? For this year’s event, here were the "teams":

Kibler, EFro, Wrapter, Ochoa

Stark, Juza, Shuhei, Yuuya, Cifka

Martell, Shahar

Flying solo:

Shi Tian

The existence two "large" teams comprising over half the field basically ensured that there would not be a huge amount of variety in the event. Also, going into the event all sixteen competitors knew the two decks to beat in Standard were Jund and U/W/R Flash. Despite this, thirteen of the sixteen players decided to play one of those two decks.

Here is a breakdown of the Standard metagame at the World Championship. Note that each player only played three rounds of Standard (with three rounds of Modern, three rounds of Modern Masters Draft, and six rounds of M14 Draft, with the Top 4 being two more rounds of Modern).

Individual Standard:

U/W/R Control 8
Jund 5
G/R 1
Naya 1
Boros 1

With both the five-man Czech/Japanese team and the Martell/Shenhar alliance on U/W/R as well as Magic Online Champion Dmitriy Butakov, it was the most played archetype, representing half of the field. I listed the archetype as U/W/R Control instead of Flash, as the majority of them were straight up control with planeswalkers and Aetherlings, as we see in the following list:

Not a single four-of outside the mana base? Where’s your God now, Flores?

Playing such a diverse mix of reactive cards is actually quite a common strategy for control decks that can draw tons of cards. Outside of diminishing returns considerations, having such a mix gives you chances of finding particular corner case things you might need. Pillar of Flame, Searing Spear, and Warleader’s Helix all do different amounts of damage, but they also have their own unique advantages. All in on Pillars and Haste is a bigger problem. Without Helix, burn might be a bigger problem. Without Pillar, undying can be a problem. Turn // Burn is sort of another two but also sort of a Swords to Plowshares that can beat Thragtusk if you have that kind of mana.

I particularly like the Desolate Lighthouses in here. With less than the maximum Think Twice and Sphinx’s Revelation, having more ways to speed through your deck (and continue to use your mana efficiently) can be invaluable.

The return of Jace, Architect of Thought is another excellent way to diversify your means of gaining an advantage. Too many people are all-in on Sphinx’s Revelation, making their deck predictable and too easily foiled. Additionally, it’s just nice to be able to gain an advantage on turn four rather than being completely slave to expensive spells. That it also gives protection against swarm strategies is just gravy.

While the format doesn’t really have as many Cavern of Souls as it used to, the countermagic is so mediocre that it’s hard to play that much of it. Here, we see just two Syncopates and two Dissipates main, with five more permission spells in the board for slower matchups.

It is worth noting both Ratchet Bomb and Detention Sphere start in the board, but having access to either or both contributes to U/W/R having one of the best sideboards in the format.

Longtime readers will recall the importance of decks like this being able to change their method of attack after sideboard. How do you change it up if you already have Aetherling maindeck?

Assemble the Legion isn’t new tech, but it is quite effective. Other options could have included more planeswalkers, artifacts like Staff of Nin or Sands of Delirium; giant fliers like Thundermaw Hellkite or Aurelia, the Warleader; cheap creatures with great abilities like Guildmages or Geist of Saint Traft; or alternate win-condition spells like Psychic Spiral or Devil’s Play. I would have also used Assemble the Legion, but fully exploring what options are available in the format is a worthwhile exercise that helps train us for future sideboards. What other possible sideboard victory conditions could a U/W/R deck use in current Standard?

This crew had planned on playing Esper and killing with Nephalia Drownyard, as they had found it quite strong against U/W/R. However, they couldn’t get it where they wanted against Jund, forcing them to abandon it, as they knew Jund would be too big to have as a bad matchup.

Martell and Shenhar had a more traditional U/W/R Flash deck:

Of course I love the Aetherling/Jace build, but by the numbers Martell and Shenhar came out ahead, going 4-2, while the Stark/Czech/Japan team had a combined record of 5-10. The final U/W/R list was Butakov, who also put up a 2-1 record.

It’s always hard to tell with such small sample sizes, but it certainly appears as though Flash was the better performing strategy as opposed to true control.

Interestingly, U/W/R Control was also the most played archetype in Modern, with most players playing Wafo-style U/W/R. I agree with them completely and played the same thing at the Modern Grand Prix in Portland just before the last Pro Tour.

Stark and company had a particularly awesome sideboard. Hallowed Burial provides much needed support against G/W Auras since Umbras save creatures from Supreme Verdict. Wear // Tear is also a fantastic way to have the anti-artifact tools you need, but then gained the added advantage of having another cheap form of disruption.

Notice, a Baneslayer Angel and a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir in the sideboard fill the role of alternate victory conditions that let you change the field of battle.

These decks have so many good, cheap options for plays while also tearing through their decks with excellent velocity. I definitely recommend this deck for control fans.

I noticed there seemed to be disagreement about U/W/R’s positioning and questions as to which deck has the advantage between U/W/R and Pod. The answer, of course, depends on what kind of U/W/R you are talking about. In my experience, the more creatures U/W/R has, the harder the matchup. A pure control deck like the above easily routs Pod even with four maindeck Voice of Resurgences.

For reference, here’s the champ’s list, again developed with testing partner Tom Martell:

The second biggest Standard archetype of the weekend was Jund, surprise, surprise. While Kibler went rogue (as he is wont to do), EFro, Wrapter, and Web all played the same version of Jund. Additionally, both the Duke and Shi Tian settled on Jund.

The Reid Duke journey is a particularly fascinating story. Last year, Reid finished in the basement of the Player’s Championship, leaving him with a burning desire to redeem himself this year. Other competitors lined up to test with him, but he respectfully declined them all, opting instead to test with the rest of the three Amigos, newly elected Hall of Famer William "Huey" Jensen and 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald.

After an absolutely stellar tournament, Reid met Shahar in the finals, which may have also been a battle between the two best players to never Top 8 a Pro Tour. Two young guys, both super kind, super positive, and super hard workers. The matchup favored Reid’s G/W Auras list, but a mull to four, some lucky top decks, and exceptionally tight play led to Shahar coming out victorious in what proved to be an incredibly exciting match (despite the fears that the Auras deck would make it no fun at all).

Here is that G/W Auras deck. Jund? Primeval Titan? G/W Auras? For the nicest guy in Magic, Reid sure is the bad guy a lot . . .

As for Standard, Reid stayed the course, again opting for his favored Jund strategy:

Reid’s Jund deck looks a little "outdated" only because his list was widely considered the starting point and he had been sharing in articles exactly what he thought and what he was planning on playing.

He was the only Jund player to not maindeck Lifebane Zombies. I happen to really like Lifebane Zombie right now, so I guess count me on the other side; however, there is no Jund player I respect more at the moment, so I’m torn.

In Standard, Reid beat U/W/R Flash twice, with his only loss coming at the hands of Kibler’s G/R deck (where the lack of Lifebane Zombie was particularly felt).

What had the edge out of U/W/R Flash vs. Jund? The matchup was almost exactly 50-50 as it played out, which sounds about right. My guess is that people want to be on the side of whichever they are more comfortable with. Of course, 50-50 matchups are nothing new for Jund.

Wrapter, Web, and EFro all elected to play the same Jund list:

This list really is just Reid’s deck but with Lifebane Zombies squeezed in. Notice not a Sire of Insanity in sight (or a Cavern of Souls for that matter).

While Kibler also went rogue in Modern, EFro, Wrapter, and Web again played the same deck. Just as many U/W/R Standard players played the same strategy, so too did some of the Jund players, including these three. Of course, with the banning of Bloodbraid Elf, the question becomes is Lightning Bolt worth it? This time, EFro, Wrapter, and Web said "no."

Of course, Jund without red starts to look an awful lot like The Rock . . .

This is such a sweet list, so clean and so well tuned. You know my heart is in the U/W/R Control camp, but this list is impressive. I think we’re going to be seeing more of it in Modern events to come.

Of course, the event was not all Flash and Jund. Kibler’s G/R Aggro deck inadvertently broke the World Cup Unified Standard format, as it’s a very effective aggro deck that doesn’t use cards other decks want. As a reminder, Unified Standard requires all three players to have no more than four copies of a card in all of their lists combined.

While almost every team had a U/W/R Flash player (occasionally Esper replaced it), most teams did not field a Jund player, which required too many of the other good decks good cards. In addition to U/W/R Flash, the majority of successful teams contained a Dragonmaster G/R deck, with the third deck being any of a number of different options, including Bant Hexproof, Mono-Green, Bant Aggro, G/W, The Rock, and The Aristocrats.

Here is Dragonmaster G/R:

Kibler 3-0ed the Standard portion (very easily) and not surprisingly was very happy with his deck choice. He did say that if he were to do it again he would replace the Gruul War Chants with Chandra, Pyromasters, which he eventually realized did the same job but had a lot of other functionality he wanted.

What does this G/R deck do? It just plays all the best guys at each spot on the curve. What does it not contain?

Kalonian Hydra.

While Kalonian Hydra is an awesome card, it was a little overhyped and is not necessarily that well positioned (considering one of the big decks is all Azorius Charms and Supreme Verdicts and the other is all spot removal and Olivias).

Of particular note are Kibler’s Burning Earths. They allowed him to absolutely ravage U/W/R Flash so thoroughly that it seems pretty clear that U/W/R Flash is going to have to evolve to help counteract it. The typical solution to enchantments has been Ratchet Bomb and Detention Sphere, but that is still a tough way to do it, particularly when you are crutching on those cards to save you from Domri Rade.

Besides, the real issue is that it is just one more avenue of attack for Dragonmaster G/R, which also has giant ground creatures, tons of haste, planeswalkers, a super-high threat density, pumps, and creatures that need to be killed twice. Add Chandra Pyromaster into the mix and things are just getting worse for the blue mage.

Dragonmaster G/R wasn’t the only Burning Earth deck to show up. Willy Edel abandoned his Jund-like ways, instead employing a traditional Naya Midrange strategy:

While there are some surface level similarities between Edel’s and Kibler’s decks (mana elf into Domri Rade, Thundermaws and Scavenging Ooze), adding white really does up the power level of some of the creature spots. Voice of Resurgence, Boros Reckoner, and Loxodon Smiter give Edel a much bigger "ground game." There is a tradeoff, however. Not only does he have a clumsier and more painful mana base, but he actually has far less haste (and more vulnerability to Supreme Verdict).

Edel does feature Burning Earth in his sideboard, but unlike Dragonmaster G/R Naya is heavily reliant on nonbasic lands and uses it actually much more like a bad Manabarbs.

The final rogue Standard deck to appear last week was yet another Burning Earth deck, this time in the hands of White Weenie enthusiast Craig Wescoe:

Never one to pass up an opportunity to play White Weenie, Wescoe chose to splash red for just Searing Spear and Burning Earth as well as to activate his four(!) Slayers’ Strongholds.

The full package of Fiendslayer Paladins is interesting, helping win races and punishing a format full of Pillar of Flames. In matchups full of giant green fatties that blank the Paladin, you can swap him out for Fiend Hunters.

Brave the Elements being the centerpiece of the deck is to be expected. The card is absolutely fantastic and was instrumental to White Weenie aficionado Paul Rietzl win in Amsterdam three years ago. It has newfound purpose, shutting down Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned.

An interesting consequence of the use of Brave the Elements is the lack of Boros Charm. I’m not sure how many layers deep into the paper-rock-scissors Wescoe went, but it definitely looks good if you believe Supreme Verdict is at a low point. Then again, the theory might just be that those people are going to lose to Burning Earth anyway.

It’s great to have the World Championship back, and I highly recommend checking out the coverage from this year’s. It was super entertaining to watch, and the coverage team really stepped it up. I’d like to see the World Championship adjust to include 32 players in order to allow for more storylines and more of the best players. If we just look at the next sixteen names from last year’s Pro Points race, we would have had a tournament that also included:

Makihito Mihara
Owen Turtenwald
Luis Scott-Vargas
Tzu-Ching Kuo
Conley Woods
Gerry Thompson
Samuele Estratti
Joel Larsson
Jon Stern
Matthew Costa
Ari Lax
Gabriel Nassif
Raphael Levy
David Sharfman
Melissa DeTora
Sam Black

That’s a pretty good crowd, and I think the added stories and excitement, diversity, and personalities would have been well worth it. What do you think? Would you like to see the World Championships invite 32 players? This year’s was totally awesome, but could it be even better? Is 24 players a possibility?

You wouldn’t have to just invite the next sixteen either. If you wanted, you could use some of those slots to invite people different ways. Perhaps Rookie of the Year? An extra Magic Online slot? A special Grand Prix that awards an invite as an added prize? As self-serving as it might be, how awesome would it be if every Hall of Famer was invited to compete for a slot awarded as the prize for a Mono-Hall of Fame tournament?

Congratulations to 2013 Magic World Champion Shahar Shenhar! You killed it this week, you really did. Also, congratulations to Team France for winning the 2013 Magic World Cup! Great work guys! Finally, major props to Reid Duke and the rest of the World Championship competitors. You guys put on quite a show, and it was a real pleasure to watch.

See you next week!

Patrick Chapin
"The Innovator"

Next Level Deckbuilding